December 17, 2004

Cook to head partnership assessing health of Metro Schools students

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Thomas Cook, Ph.D.

Cook to head partnership assessing health of Metro Schools students

Thomas H. Cook, Ph.D., M.S.N., assistant professor of Nursing, has been appointed the School Health director for Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

In this newly created role, Cook is heading a partnership with Children's Hospital and all 129 Metro Nashville Public Schools — with nearly 72,000 students — to provide health assessments based on the Centers for Disease Control's school health model.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for a School of Nursing faculty to be involved with the Children's Hospital initiative and Tom Cook was a natural choice to be heading this," said Linda Norman, D.S.N., senior associate dean for academics in the School of Nursing. "Through Tom's previous grant work on nutrition and exercise in children, he already had the contacts and the expertise."

Each grade will be assessed with the CDC's nine components that make for a healthy school – health education, physical education, health services, nutrition services, counseling, psychological and social services, healthy school environment, health promotion for staff, and family/community involvement. Cook, working with Vanderbilt's child development program, has added an additional assessment for pre-Kindergarten development.

“The school system really wants to know how they are doing. It would seem that optimal health facilitates learning,” Cook said.

Since August, Cook, students in the School of Nursing, Vanderbilt Sports Medicine trainers and other Vanderbilt volunteers began assessing each Metro Nashville school.

“The assessments have been really exciting for the nursing students," Norman said. "Taking students out of the classroom to do these assessments has been a valuable lesson on what they can do to improve the system."

Using the CDC instruments, each school will receive a picture describing the school's overall health.

For example, the health education assessment inquires whether all students take and pass at least one health education course during their elementary, middle and high school grades. The school health environment survey asks questions about school safety and tobacco use. The nutrition survey asks about variety in school meals as well as the fat content of breakfast and lunches.

The assessments will be completed by next April. Then the information will be disseminated to each school. Plans that capitalize on the schools' strengths and facilitate improvement of school health needs will be developed with each of the schools.

“The Metro School system will have a comprehensive picture of the health of its system,” Cook said. “They'll have in their hands a blueprint for action.”

Cook is no stranger to Metro Schools and health initiatives. In 2002, he received a National Institute of Health grant to study nutrition and physical activity in three Metro Schools. Nutrition and physical activity are major components of energy balance. Excess nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle lead to obesity. It has been demonstrated that excess weight in children follows those children into adulthood and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers. He is still analyzing the data, but results to date indicate increased health knowledge and increased leisure time activity in the children who were in the study.

Before and after the eight-week intervention, three-fourths of the students volunteered a blood sample to measure their lipid levels. After the eight-week intervention, students reported they learned a significant amount about their hearts, asked for healthier food at home and increased their physical activity during P.E. and after school, according to Cook.